Take control of your omnichannel customer experience with headless CMS

Date
25 July 2022

Today, the number of touchpoints and the customer expectations that are associated with them continue to grow unabated. Regardless of the device or the channel, the customer experience should be easy and pleasant, just like in the model omnichannel strategy. The main challenge here is how do you tailor your content across all channels and realise elegant personalisation? This requires flexibility, innovation, and strength – exactly what headless CMS is.

headless cms header

Traditional CMS focuses exclusively on the website. Every new channel – from mobile site, app to social media – has its own CMS because the content cannot be reused. That can work until the amount of content and channels increases. Each channel has its own defined context and therefore demands its own approach.

In practice, that means a lot of manual work. It’s not scalable or flexible, so at some point you will inevitably fall behind your competitors in the already crowded market with your online communication and turnover.

With headless CMS, the content layer is disconnected from the presentation layer in contrast to a traditional CMS, where you enter, preview, and publish your content. Headless CMS focuses exclusively on content management, so you have to realise the presentation layer yourself. There are standard solutions for this, but it also offers opportunities to build a unique, optimal customer experience. Headless CMS gives you the opportunity to tailor the content to the context, exactly the way your customers like it.

Customers expect an omnichannel experience

Today consumers shop online using desktop, smartphone and physically in bricks and mortar stores: bricks & clicks. Voice commerce and social commerce are emerging channels, among many through which consumers inform themselves and get an idea of companies and products. The brand that offers customers a seamless customer journey across all relevant channels and touchpoints raises the bar for the entire market, and sometimes beyond.

This transfer expectation is usually guided by innovation and technology. Thanks to market innovations from Booking.com, we now expect no cancellation costs, and, thanks to Uber, we now expect to order taxis through an app. Creating a seamless customer journey requires an omnichannel strategy that empowers customers to decide for themselves which device or channel they use to communicate with a brand. The real promise of headless CMS is centrally managing content and distributing it through the right channels at the right time.

"The promise of headless CMS is managing content centrally and distributing it through the right channels at the right time. "

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How does Headless CMS work exactly?

Headless CMS separates the content management from the publishing channel. Content managers feed the backend with texts, layouts, images, and video. APIs transfer this content to the frontend, with which the user interacts.

Every conceivable channel can use the content from the backend. From website, webshop, app and mobile site, to social media, in-store displays, chatbots, smartwatches, voice assistants, AR, and VR, but also just print media. The user will never be able to tell whether the content comes from a traditional or a headless CMS.

Headless CMS delivers the following benefits:

  • Efficiency. The biggest advantage is that you can manage all your content in one environment. A separate CMS for every channel is no longer necessary. You can reuse and publish content across different touchpoints.

  • Stability. The separation between the frontend and backend means that you can update one layer without having to refresh the other. This makes it easier to replace the frontend content completely.

  • Flexibility. It is quicker and easier to add new channels for an app or wearable. Connect the new channel via an API, and you can simply load the content from the headless CMS. This flexibility extends to every new technology and platform.

  • Performance. Headless CMS delivers a more efficient UI. Your frontend is tailor-made, so you only use what you really need. The separate architecture makes it easier to spread the frontend across multiple servers and apply load balancers and caching layers.

  • Innovation. The flexibility of a headless CMS gives you the freedom to experiment with new technologies. With APIs you can quickly and efficiently connect cloud services for machine learning or AI, for example.

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You can build the ultimate customer experience yourself

Opting for headless CMS is a major change in how your organization's digital ecosystem is structured. Instead of one system that brings together different marketing solutions – the full suite approach, you choose different marketing solutions that you link together with APIs. This best of breed approach is often compared to the Lego building system because it lets you build the digital ecosystem with separate and interchangeable building blocks. You are free to choose the very best marketing solution for your CRM, marketing automation or social advertising for example.

Personalisation requires a custom approach

Personalising the customer experience is easier. Despite the evidence of the obvious commercial importance of personalisation, many companies are still struggling with its realisation. The underlying reason for this is that personalisation requires data and a custom approach. Full suite solutions do not offer sufficient flexibility to do this.

A headless CMS, on the other hand, is agnostic, and adds the best personalisation solutions to the digital ecosystem, whether that’s a customer data platform (CDP) or a data management platform (DMP). Headless CMS has no vendor lock-in. You can modify and replace any building block of your CMS without impacting the bigger picture. Segregating the various marketing functions has a positive impact upon security. In a well-designed headless CMS, if a hack breaks through your security, it only affects that subsystem.

Headless CMS demands a different mindset

With freedom comes responsibility. The frontend is your responsibility, you provide the content and link it to the CMS. This demands a different mindset: not the pre-digested options of a full suite, now you’re in charge of designing and maintaining the entire customer experience yourself.

Shifting the focus of your technical expertise

That extra control means that you will need more tech people in the implementation phase. This is compensated by the fact that efficiency improvements mean that other IT activities can be reduced. The whole digital ecosystem can be built entirely in the cloud, eliminating the need to maintain physical hardware.

There is also less interdependency between front-end and back-end developers which allows them to work in the headless CMS at the same time. In headless CMS architecture, updates can go live much faster than in a traditional single-system environment. Operating free of vendor lock-in means that your developers can use their own favourite technology and means that if you are faced with employee churn, developers are easier to find in the labour market.

A different way of working for content managers

Working with headless CMS also brings about changes for your content managers. Headless CMS is a new way of working with new tooling. This doesn’t just require training; it also demands a new way of looking at the processes. It questions the old ideas of what a page is, HTML code isn’t something that you just paste on in there. In particular, the preview can be a major stumbling block.

These points can all obstruct efficient operation. Therefore, it’s important that you involve your content managers in the entire implementation process. Identify their specific needs and practices, fine-tune which templates and layout options they need, and incorporate them into their interface as standard.

Three scenarios in which a headless CMS is the best choice

By now it should be clear: the switch to a headless CMS is not without its challenges. For a successful implementation, you need a team of developers or a budget for external specialists. The move will impact the way your digital ecosystem is built and how you shape the customer experience with touchpoints, content, and personalisation.

A headless solution is recommended for the following scenarios:

  • The current platform on which the digital ecosystem is built is creaking in every way. It's legacy and holds back growth. Implementing changes takes too long, scaling is difficult, and your developers are mainly concerned with maintenance, not innovation.

  • Rising customer expectations mean that you need an omnichannel strategy. The competition is already innovating and you’re lagging behind. This will eventually result in loss of turnover. For example, you want to add a chatbot or a mobile app, but you notice that your ecosystem is not flexible enough to do this quickly or efficiently.

  • A unique customer experience is essential to distinguish yourself. A standard full suite solution is not enough in your market, customers expect a personalised customer experience that offers clear added value. Headless CMS not only ensures a clear brand experience, regardless of the channel, but also offers the space to enrich the experience with personalisation and better UI.

When headless CMS is not the right choice

If your focus is on one channel and you can already shape the customer experience to your satisfaction, then a headless CMS is not worth exploring for now. The switch to headless CMS is also a change in mindset that the organisation has to be prepared for. More traditional companies in a conservative market where digital is yet to have a noticeable impact, it would be wise to follow developments closely, but to park the idea of introducing headless for a while.

An immediate switch to headless CMS?

Timing is everything when you’re thinking about the switch to headless. A lot depends on your ambitions and how far you want to go. With a limited number of interventions, you can also make your existing WordPress, Umbraco, Drupal and other well-known CMSs headless. The pace at which you apply headless should be led by your customer’s needs. If you need omnichannel to provide great customer experiences and to improve your customer retention, you really can't start fast enough. Technology, competition, and new market players can all add to the pressure. If you opt for a headless CMS, you can access a world of new possibilities: flexibility, innovation and above all, resilience.

Jordy van Raaij
About the author
Jordy van Raaij
Technology & Innovation Strategist - iO

Jordy’s own passion for technology led him to spend his days connecting the dots of technology, business, market trends & competitive insights. He especially loves overseeing the creation of new, innovative business models and technology roadmaps – as well as getting clients on board the future-proof train.

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